Meet the Expert: Mya Kwon

I work at the crossroads of physical and mental health as these eating behaviors often stem from deeply rooted psychological/emotional issues. Even as an RD, I need to be aware of that big picture in order to help each client,
— Mya Kwon MPH, RD, CD

Today, we're thrilled to be featuring Mya Kwon MPH, RD, CD! Mya practices in Seattle, Washington, and focuses on helping patients with a wide variety of eating disorders. In addition to running her own private practice, Mya serves as the staff dietitian at the Student Counseling Center of Seattle Pacific University. Her holistic and individualized approach to each patient makes Mya an inspiring dietitian in her field. Join us to learn more about her career in dietetics!

Healthy Bytes: Hi Mya- we're excited to be talking with you today! To start us off, can you talk a little bit about why you became a RD? 

I used to work in a completely different industry (media & PR) and was a workaholic. I routinely skipped meals, ate irregularly, and nutrition was something that just never crossed my mind.  However, after seven years of that, I noticed myself being chronically tired, stressed, out of energy and thought “hey, maybe this has something to do with what I eat?” So I started reading a LOT and became fascinated with the world of nutrition and its impact on health (physical and mental!).  

What's your niche area of practice? 

My niche area is the whole spectrum of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.  That includes not just the clinical eating disorders, but any disordered eating behaviors such as weight cycling (aka yo-yo dieting), emotional eating, binge eating as well as the issues of negative body image that is often intertwined with disordered eating behaviors. 

What makes your area of focus special?

I work at the crossroads of physical and mental health as these eating behaviors often stem from deeply rooted psychological/emotional issues. Even as an RD, I need to be aware of that big picture in order to help each client, not only become physically healthier with improved nutrition, but also happier in their relationship with food and their bodies.  It’s inevitable that I take such a holistic approach, because if I were to only work on a person’s eating behaviors that would only be addressing the symptoms and not getting to the root of the problems. I try to keep up with the research and therapeutic modalities in these areas and always closely work with mental health therapists to provide optimized care for my clients. The “Body Image Group” and “Mindful Eating Group” I am about to launch with a mental health therapist is an example of such collaboration.

What in your career path made you focus on disordered eating?

I always knew I wanted to work with young women in some capacity.  After completing my RD-training requirements, I had an opportunity to additionally do an Adolescent Medicine Fellowship specializing in eating disorders, and got to work with teenagers with eating disorders. I fell in love with this population. When I got my job working at a local university’s Student Counseling Center, it was mind-boggling to me how many college students was suffering from some degree of disordered eating and body dissatisfaction. Since then, it became my passion to help young women stop hating their bodies and controlling food, but instead bring back the joy in eating in a healthy and happy way and start treating their bodies with respect.

As an experienced dietitian, what advice would you give a new RDN? 

Find other RDNs that have jobs, visions, values similar to what you want and connect with them! Ask how they got started, ask for pointers and introductions, ask ways how you can help them!  We are a caring profession and are eager to help others following in our footsteps.  You just have to ask!  (But of course be respectful/grateful when they do help!)

What is the most fascinating thing you’ve learned in your career as a dietitian?

The endless array of factors that can impact human eating behavior: appetite, habit, culture, availability, environment, emotions, stress, sleep, medications, health conditions, genetics, family, peers, socio-economic status, climate, hormones, trauma, mood disorders, abuse, media, self-esteem, self-worth, self-compassion, etc.  The list goes on and it is truly fascinating.

What change are you excited about in the field of nutrition and dietetics?

I am excited about seeing more scientific advances in the understanding of the gut-brain connection and practical ways to apply it in treatment.  We already have evidence the human gut has its own enteric nervous system that simultaneously communicates with the brain, and that’s how mood can impact hunger/appetite and vice versa.  This has a lot of implications for the relationship between mental health disorders (including eating disorders) and nutrition. 

Thanks Mya!

Parts of this interview has been shortened and changed.